Rubik's Cube 3x3 - Pro Cuber Interviews for the Beginner - Chris Hardwick
Cubefactor's Note and the Interviewee Profile
I met Chris for the first time at the Rubik's World Championships in 2003, but we were good friends even before that through the Yahoo Group. If any of the readers ever try out speedcubing and find this guy at an event, go meet him! It's hard to believe his face doesn't hurt from smiling so constantly! :)
I was honored when Chris agreed to do an interview for my Blog. He's a busy guy and this kind of thing can take time. I threw together a list of questions for him (all that I could think of), and received his response today. I was AMAZED at the amount of time and depth of content he provided. Readers, consider yourselves lucky to have stumbled across this. Ladies and Gents, Chris Hardwick (AKA: CFH <-- If you ever see him, call him this. He will laugh, promise):
Name: Chris Hardwick
Profession: Math Teacher
Location: Orlando, Florida
# of Years Cubing: 13
National Records and World Records:
I've previously held 16 World Records in the following events:
3x3x3 one-handed single
4x4x4 Blindfolded single
5x5x5 Blindfolded single
I've previously held 13 North American continental records in the following events:
3x3x3 Blindfolded single
And I currently still hold the North American continental records for:
4x4x4 Blindfolded single
5x5x5 Blindfolded single
Major Tournament Results:
3x3 OH World Champion (2003)
4x4 Blindfolded World Champion (2007)
3x3 OH US Champion (2004)
3x3 Blindfolded US Champion (2004)
4x4 Speedsolve US Champion (2004)
5x5 Speedsolve US Champion (2004)
4x4 Blindfolded US Champion (2006, 2008)
4x4 Blindfolded US Champion (2010)
5x5 Blindfolded US Champion (2006)
3x3 Fewest Moves US Champion (2008)
This series is being put together for Beginner's. Could you share with the readers what it was like when you first started?
When I first started cubing I remember it being really exciting and new. I was completely fascinated with the fact that not only did I know something about the Rubik's cube, but I could SOLVE it. Over the years some of the newness has worn off, but the excitement of being able to solve the cube has never waned for me.
When I first started I went about learning the Fridrich method, especially the last layer, in the worst way possible. I jumped right into 1 look OLL right off the bat, even before starting PLL. About halfway through OLL I then started working on 1 look PLL. I timed myself way too much, and spent nowhere near enough time learning algorithms. If I could go back and do it all again I would definitely stop taking averages during the learning phase, and just focus on learning the algs.
As far as family reactions to cubing I was 14 when I first started so my parents were initially fairly supportive. As far as they saw it there were worse things I could be addicted to. I could tell that after a while they became a little concerned that I was into cubing as much as I was. I was probably cubing for a couple of hours a day at that point, and I often set aside my homework to cube instead. I even remember at one point my Dad took away all of my cubes because I was spending too little time on my homework because of it. Over time my parents grew more accepting of it. As I began to improve they started to see that I really was getting quite good at this, and it was at that point that they really were much more supportive of my cubing.
I never really told my friends that I was into cubing at the time, at least not for the first two years. Pop culture attitude toward cubing felt fairly different back then. I started cubing in 1998, and at the time some people had a strong viewpoint that cubing was still "That 80's fad that died, didn't you get the memo?" Reactions from these people were generally very negative if they saw you cubing. Having someone like this watch you do a solve generally meant that they would classify you as a super nerd with no life. Most people thought cubing was very neat and a cool trick, but a relatively small yet very vocal percentage of people really looked down on it. Things have since improved drastically now that cubing is much more back into popular culture than it used to be. Because of the sometimes very negative reactions, I didn't tell any of my high school friends that I was a cuber until my junior year, after I had been cubing already for about 2 years.
How long did it take from first solving the cube to actively trying to improve your times? What about branching off to other puzzles?
I learned a beginner method off Mark Jeays' website when I first started. It was a pretty standard layer-by-layer method, nothing special. At first I was simply blown away by the fact that I could solve a cube at all. I mean, only super geniuses can solve the Rubik's cube right? So who was I to attempt the feat? I would solve, then scramble, then solve it over and over. I never really timed myself at this point. I did time myself one day, setting a time of about 5 and a half minutes, and then about two and a half minutes later that day. As far as I know that was my record for a long time.
A couple weeks later I was growing bored with solving the cube, so I went on Mark's website and learned his other solution on his site, which was more of a keyhole approach. It ended the solve by using commutators, very intuitive ways to build algorithms, although I didn't know what those were at the time. I liked that this solution was very different from the regular layer-by-layer method. My impression was that it was so much easier to solve the cube this way, and that it made so much more sense as to how I was solving it. I think this was the beginning of my eventual liking for fewest moves and blindfold cubing, since in those events you must have a much better understanding of how you're solving the cube than for speedsolving.
Even with the new and improved keyhole method I still got bored of the cube after a couple more weeks. After about a month and a half or so I was surfing the internet and found Jessica Fridrich's website, describing her speedsolving method that would allow you to average 17 seconds! I absolutely could not believe how amazing that would be, and I was hooked instantly! I was going to be a 17 second cuber!
As far as branching off to other puzzles, the first other puzzle I branched off to was the 4x4x4. 4x4x4's were out of production at that time, you couldn't buy them anywhere except for the occasional eBay auction, and even then they usually sold for close to or over $100 each. There was an applet online that simulated the 4x4x4, and I would spend hours on that thing trying to figure out how to adapt my layer-by-layer method to it. The best I ever got initially was the first two layers.
Shortly after this I found a 5x5x5 cube online, and bought one. This was the first physical puzzle I bought that was not the 3x3x3. I spent hours on this trying to adapt my layer by layer approach as well. It was at this point that I did some reading and found out that the professional cubers from the 80's used to solve the bigger cubes by what we now call the reduction method, so I began learning how to reduce the cube by solving centers, then edges. The idea was not mine, but I discovered on my own how to implement the reduction method by first working on the centers, then on how to pair edges.
Talk about a few barriers that were important for you, how you achieved them, and how long it took.
I've definitely had a number of barriers in my time cubing. I've also noticed that I tend to be much slower at passing the standard barriers than most. I took about 8 months to learn the Fridrich method in it's entirety. Most of the reason I did not learn it very quickly was that I put off learning all of OLL for some time. I used an approximately half 1 look and half 2 look OLL for months. Once I finally knew the whole method my times instantly shot to sub-40. This is the point where I remember really getting serious about my cubing. I had already been excited about getting sub-60, but I had been stuck in the 50 seconds for months. Finally breaking to sub-40 so quickly really gave me fuel to go nuts on improving my times. It was also at this time that I first lubed my cube with silicone oil and discovered finger tricks. Before that point I was pretty much wristing my way through the entire solve, something that most people would cringe at today!
The barrier that I got most excited about, even to this day, was getting my first sub-20 single 3x3 solve. Getting there took probably about another year from learning the Fridrich method (so about 2 years total). I was in my kitchen timing myself on a stopwatch and I still remember the incredibly intense high of that feeling of total success when it happened!
Getting to sub-20 for a trimmed average of 12 solves took me almost 5 years total. I had stagnated in the low 20's for a very long time and did not improve until I got to college. I went to an accelerated academics high school, so once I got to college I felt like I had so much free time I didn't know what to do with it all. It was at this point that I discovered how to train for speedcubing, in the competitive sense.
There were lots of other exciting barriers in my speedcubing, but those were the most important to me when I first began. The most important barrier that I passed recently was getting my first ever sub-10 minute solve on 5x5x5 blindfolded. The excitement I felt when I opened my eyes to see a sub-10 minute time on the clock, and a solved cube, was almost just as potent and amazing as my first ever sub-20 single solve on 3x3x3!
Even seasoned veterans need to learn new systems, ideas, and algorithms. After years of experience, how do you approach learning new things? (attitude, tips, timeline, etc)
First and foremost, whenever learning something new you have to completely abandon timing yourself, or even solving at all. There is a time for speedcubing and a time for learning new things. Those two worlds should never cross. I learned this by not following that rule at all when I first started and taking 8 months to learn the Fridrich method because of it.
When learning new algs I first have the alg up on the screen and execute it trigger by trigger. By trigger I mean that I group the moves into "hand movements" rather than single turns. Groups like R U R' I will group together as an index finger trigger pull, rather than 3 individual turns. I also pay attention to how the pieces move in relation to each other. I have trained myself to be ambidextrous in my cubing, which has actually led to me being somewhat ambidextrous for other things. I will pay attention to the patterns the pieces make with each other so that I will be able to reflect the alg and also do it left handed (my off hand).
After learning the hand triggers for the alg, I then start timing it while reading it off the screen. Start the timer and read the alg as you execute it. Do maybe 20 executions of the alg this way. After that start trying to do the alg by memory, but still timing. Do maybe 20 executions of it this way, only looking at the alg on screen if you have to. After that, close the window with the alg open and do 20 executions completely cold without a "cheat sheet". At this point the alg is in your short term muscle memory (if that even exists, but it's what it feels like). Then go on to learning the next alg the same way. At the end of your practice session go back and do 5-10 executions of each alg again to cement them into your more long term muscle memory and make sure that you remember them again tomorrow.
Doing this each day for about 3 days will put as many as 7-8 new algs completely into your subconscious and muscle memory well enough that you can remember them during a real solve. Your first 2-3 executions of any new alg during an actual solve will be really slow, awkward, and terrible, but it really only takes 2-3 to "get it". On the 4th execution of the new alg in a real solve you will blaze through it at 100% full speed, effortlessly.
As far as learning new methods or ideas, just practice slow solves without the timer. I think the one thing that most beginners or intermediate solvers struggle with the most is that while learning new things they will continue to time themselves on full solves. This does nothing other than slow down our learning, and does not help you to learn the new stuff. In fact, it does even worse in that you continue to practice the old stuff you were doing before, and not working on getting the newer stuff into your muscle memory. Speedcubing is all about muscle memory. You don't know an alg or case or method until you can execute it effortlessly without thinking about it. The only way to get there is to stop timing yourself and focus solely on learning the new stuff.
Was there ever a time you wanted to give up on a particular puzzle discipline? If so, which discipline was it? What caused your frustration and how did you overcome it?
Yes I have had times where I get frustrated or want to give up on a puzzle discipline. I've gone through this a few times, with different puzzles even. The first event that I had this happen to me was 3x3x3 one-handed. I was the world champion for solving one-handed in 2003, but I was quickly surpassed by Ryan Patricio in the late part of 2004 and early 2005. At the time I found it frustrating that someone was so much faster than I was, but in fact Ryan was much more dedicated than I was. Additionally he was and still is an extremely talented cuber, and I was not as dedicated to the event as he was.
I have found that whenever you get frustrated with an event, just take a break from that event for a while. When I was getting frustrated with my one-handed times hitting a wall I moved onto 4x4x4 speedsolving. My times improved drastically in 4x4x4 at the time, and I went on to get the world record single solve in 2005. At worlds 2005 there were a number of other 4x4 solvers who were starting to really pass my skill level by quite a large margin. At the time I found that frustrating, and that is when I discovered blindfolded solving and moved on to that.
I know this probably sounds a bit strange, to move on to another event if you get frustrated with another one. I think this really does work though, as it helps you to find the event you like the most. Through moving from 3x3 one-handed to 4x4x4 to blindfolded solving, I found that really I should have been a blindfolded solver all along. I have never enjoyed any event even half as much as I enjoy blindsolving.
If anyone is frustrated with an event, or frustrated that their times have stagnated in that event, try doing some other events too. You may find that you just needed a short break, and after your break your times will improve in the event you were frustrated with. However, you may be like me and find that the event that you thought was your event wasn't really, and that you like another event so much more. I think this is something everyone has to find for themselves.
What tips can you offer to the addicts out there in terms of cubing (moderation and such).
Don't take cubing too seriously, even if you take it seriously. Take a moment to read that sentence again to make sure it sinks in.
I take my competitive cubing very seriously, I have a training regimen that I follow every week. I have short term, medium term, and long term goals that I want to meet as well as the rough time frame at which I hope to meet those goals. However, I will never miss going out with friends because of cubing. If some of my friends invite me to go to the beach for the weekend I absolutely do not, under any circumstance bring a cube with me. For those who are older I will go out drinking with my friends whenever something comes up.
For a time I took my cubing so seriously that I would not allow anything to get in the way of my training or practicing. If friends wanted to go out during my dedicated training time, I would not go with them. If I went on an extended trip anywhere, I always brought my cubes so that I could keep up my practicing.
Enjoy your cubing, and enjoy your training. However, you have to enjoy life too. It's not all about cubing. Keep your competitive cubing life and your regular life completely separate, and do not let them overlap. I've found that this is the healthiest way to keep a good level of moderation, yet still keep your solving times and abilities to a competitive level where you want them to be.
For those who are just simply addicted to the cube and can't put it down all I have to say is that I still feel that way, even after 13 years ;) But, if your friends call and say they are going out and ask if you want to come along, then your cubing can wait. Even if you're in the middle of a speedsolving average that might break your pb, go out with your friends. When you go out of your way to have fun, it gives you energy for your cubing, seriously. When you take cubing too seriously your times will suffer for it. Trust me.
How has cubing effected your life in a positive way? (travel experiences, friendships, memories, etc)
Cubing is one of the best things in my life, and has been since I started. The absolutely best parts are the competitions. It's fun to do well in competition, to beat your personal bests, or even to win an event or set a record. But none of those are as fun as the after party after the award ceremony where 20 or more cubers crash a restaurant and cube and eat and hang out for 4 hours! It's so much fun to get lost in a city you've never been to with a group of cubers solving cubes constantly all while walking down the sidewalk and forming a wall of cubers.
Cubing has taken me to Hungary, Germany, Canada, all over the US, and I am very excited to be going to Thailand for the first time for the 2011 World Championship! Think of cubing as a great excuse to travel!
Cubing has also helped me to learn to use my mind in ways I never thought possible. I now know how to meditate and clear my mind (I've actually seen a scan of my brain activity while going through my cubing training routine). I feel much more confident in myself in real life knowing that I know how to set extremely high goals for myself and meet them on the time frame I set. I have so many positive memories from competitions and traveling, and I plan on going to competitions well into my later years :)
How has cubing effected your life in a negative way?
Cubing has made me either develop carpal tunnel syndrome in my right hand, or perhaps I already had it and cubing exacerbated it. I have to be very careful not to cube too much now, or I will have to ice my wrist to take some of the pain and twinges down. I can't do an average of 100 in one sitting anymore without having to ice my wrist. Make sure to listen to your body and stop when it tells you that you've been cubing too long.
The only other negative thing that cubing has brought in my life is that at one point in 2005 shortly before and after the 2005 World Competition I took cubing way too seriously and took it to an unhealthy competitive level. I would shirk hanging out with my friends, and even my family, as I needed my training time to do well at the upcoming World Competition. I call this my rock bottom phase for competitive cubing. At the time I had a long talk with my brother about my cubing and my competitive training and he really helped ground me and was the one who told me not to take cubing so seriously. It's ok to take cubing seriously, but don't take it too seriously.
Why should our non-cubing readers consider giving cubing a try?
Everyone should give cubing a try, at least once, to see if they like it. Absolutely anyone can learn how to solve a cube as long as you accept a couple of things:
1) There is no "trick" to cubing. Asking someone to teach you the "trick" is like asking someone what's the "trick" to driving a car. There are a couple of main concepts that you need to know to solve a cube, but not one quick trick. Still, if you can drive a car, or ride a bike, then you can certainly learn to solve a cube.
2) Cubing is a great party trick, and it's fun too! Casual cubers who don't really train to get fast, but who still know how to solve the cube, are big hits at parties! You'll have a party trick that not many people can top, which really feels great when you're the one getting all the attention!
So in short, for any non-cubers who are considering it just go out and get a cube and look up Dan Brown's video on youtube! That really is all it takes to learn. You're so much closer to solving a cube for the first time than you may think.
Any additional thoughts?
Although cubing is my thing, one thing I've learned is that everyone has to find that something that they love to do just because they love to do it. I am so happy cubing, and will continue going to competitions and cubing for fun as long as I can. No matter what your thing is, everyone needs to have something that they love to do for fun. It could be surfing, sewing, reading, biking, running, whatever. Find what you love to do, and do it as often as you can.
Go ahead, thank some people and say hi to Mom!
Many thanks to all the friends who have supported me in my cubing, and have travelled with me over the years. There are so many people I'd like to give a shout out to, but in the interest of space I will just thank the following cubers in particular: Dan Knights, Frank Morris, Andrew Kang, Daniel Beyer, and Dror Vomberg. Also, last but certainly not least, I would like to thank Richard Patterson for being my cubing coach for the last 8 years! Many thanks for this opportunity!
Oh, and of course "Hi Mom!" :)
Happy cubing everyone,